Fermented foods – they are so hot right now! No, seriously. I’ve seen fermented foods on nearly every “food trend” list for 2015, whether it pertains to healthy eating or not. Why all the love for these funky tasting foods? Well they are great sources of probiotics – you know, those good microorganisms that benefit our gut health. Fermenting is also a traditional way of preserving foods to extend their shelf life and keep you eating well throughout the long winter. I know yogurt is one of the major foods that comes to mind when we talk about fermentation and probiotics, but the world of fermented foods is much bigger than that – think sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, pickles, and more!
I’m a big fan of fermented foods, from both a taste and health standpoint. I love sour funky flavours, and fermented foods often offer that in spades – they can add different tangy dimensions to your meals, and give you a nutritional boost at the same time. So I was all over the opportunity to review The Everyday Fermentation Handbook by Branden Byers, the creator of FermUp.com. I have been making my own kombucha for a while now, and thought it would be fun to expand my fermenting knowledge and skills. Visions of farmer’s market bounties preserved in mason jars danced in my head.
The book starts with a great first chapter titled “Fermentation 101” which will honestly tell you everything you need to know about fermentation – historical details, what exactly is happening to the food when you add bacteria, yeast, or molds, what tools will help you in making different fermented foods, and details on all the factors that influence your final product – like temperature, time, salt, pH, and more. It’s written in a very approachable way, that makes fermentation seem fun and easy for anyone to pick up. The author definitely has enthusiasm for fermented foods, and wants to share that passion with the reader.
Next up come the recipes. From sauerkraut to yogurt, sourdough starter to tempeh, there are recipes for pretty much every fermented food you can think of. The instructions are clear, and the author uses weights and volume measurements, letting the reader know when they should weight their ingredients because accuracy will really impact their final results. I was pretty excited to see recipes for miso and tempeh, but soon realized they might need to wait until I have advanced my fermenting skills. The book also contains recipes to use all those tasty fermented foods you have made, and an appendix on where to get starter cultures and more information on fermenting.
I decided to keep my fermentation experiments rather simple to start, so I decided to make basic sauerkraut and the dill green beans. It helped that I had an abundance of both when I set out to ferment – hey, why not use what you have on hand, right? Sadly, I didn’t pack my jar properly when I made the green beans and they ended up getting a little fuzzy for my liking, so I had to toss them. But the ones that I did taste pre-fuzz were delicious. I will try them again when I find myself in green beans.
On the other hand, I had great success with my sauerkraut. To be fair, it’s probably the easiest ferment you can make – it involves cabbage and salt. That’s it. It was a really fun process, massaging the cabbage with the salt until you had enough water to submerge the whole lot and it fit into my quart size mason jar. I let it sit on top of my fridge, doing its thing, letting the excess CO2 escape every day or so. I think I left mine for just over a month to ferment, but you can let it go as long as you want, to get the flavour you want. I was impatient and wanted to try it, so I might let it go a little longer next time. I would also play around with the salt levels, as it was a little salty for my tastes, but works well as an accompaniment to dishes when they need a little salty kick.
Overall, I was definitely impressed with The Everyday Fermentation Handbook. I thought it was a great overview of the history and art of fermentation, with recipes for every skill level. The writing was approachable and down to earth, and it has me inspired to try some more fermenting myself – I definitely want to try getting my own sourdough starter going. Which sounds like a great project for this cold, snowy January night. So here’s to the hot foods of 2015 – fermented foods are functional and fun!
Basic Sauerkraut – from The Everyday Fermentation Handbook by Branden Byers
Yield: 1 quart
- 900 g (2 lbs) cabbage
- 20 g (2 tbsp) salt
1. Remove outer leaves of cabbage and save them.
2. Slice cabbage into quarters, remove core, and save.
3. Shred cabbage.
4. In a bowl, combine shredded cabbage and salt.
5. Massage cabbage until soft and juicy, from 2-15 minutes.
6. Pack cabbage and juice into a quart-sized jar. Make certain the cabbage is submerged below the brine of cabbage juice. Apply added pressure to the cabbage while packing in order to ensure there are no trapped air pockets in the jar.
7. Leave at least 1” of space between lip of jar and brine.
8. Cover the shredded cabbage with a layer or two of cabbage leaves. Then place a chunk of cabbage core on top of the cabbage leaves.
9. Close the lid of jar and make certain that the cabbage core is holding the shredded cabbage below the brine.
10. Leave to ferment, away from direct sunlight, for as little as 3 days or up to 6 months.
11. Make certain to release any CO2 buildup in the first week by quickly opening and closing the lid.
12. When fermentation is to your liking, move to long-term storage (ex: refrigerator, basement, root cellar).
Disclaimer – this cookbook was provided to me free of charge to review for the blog. All opinions and photos are my own. Recipe reprinted with permission.